“Hopeless.” “Unexpected.” “Frustrated.” “Uncertain.” These were some of the words the team in the Office of Career and Professional Development (OCPD) heard from 2020 graduates in April. After we fully transitioned to virtual services as part of the University’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic, our office continued to connect with students who had lost job offers or who had internships rescinded. We wanted to support students in such unfortunate circumstances. At the same time, we were hearing from alumni who wanted to help. The synergy of these two groups led to the Bulldog Endeavor Program.
The program’s main goal is to help students who had a job or internship rescinded due to COVID-19 and are looking to gain experience over the summer by working with alumni on a micro-project (not to exceed a total of 60 hours). It also provides recent U of R graduates and current undergraduates with little to no experience the opportunity to work with high-level professionals.
We had 8 alumni quickly submit projects. Once we had a few projects in place, we marketed the projects to students and had over 50 applicants, one-third of whom had lost an internship or job due to COVID-19.
Simmy Grewal ’22, one of the students who applied to Bulldog Endeavor, had lost an opportunity to study abroad at the London School of Economics and Political Science this summer because of COVID-19. “It felt like fate when I heard about the Bulldog Endeavors Program,” she shares. “It offered everything that I could hope for: a remote, yet completely interactive online experience with alumni of the Bulldog community. These individuals understand where I am now in my education and can offer a summer of knowledge and skill-building.”
In reviewing applicants to the program, we were not looking for specific technical skills or years of experience. Instead, we wanted to know who had the drive and willpower, understood their goals, and possessed a desire to develop and use this experience to better themselves. We selected 16 students to move forward for the eight project opportunities.
The alumni hosts then interviewed their top candidates; half of these alumni wanted to move forward with both students and created another project within their organization so a total of 12 Bulldogs were set up to gain beneficial summer work experience.
Brian Brown ’15, strategic partner manager at Avalara, and one of our alumni project hosts, shares: “Since it was project-focused, it was exciting to think about how to engage a student’s skills with a real-world deliverable. The flexibility offered another element that made it worthwhile; depending on the project scope and the student’s interest and availability, we could mutually determine a time commitment that made sense.”
Brown ended up hiring both students with whom he was matched and has met with his Bulldog Endeavor students at least weekly. “The focus on student outcomes, not just project deliverables, has been really meaningful,” he says. “Ensuring that it has been a positive learning experience for them has definitely been a priority. It has also allowed us to more closely connect, to feel more like coworkers than just a mentor-student relationship.”
Because of the high number of students who applied for the first round and the close relationships we saw our alumni and students forming, we knew we were onto something with this program. We decided to pursue another round, and, with the help of colleagues across campus, we connected with seven additional alumni who sponsored projects. After identifying top student matches, five of the seven alumni kept both students so 12 more Bulldogs were set up for a summer project experience.
The 24 2020 Bulldog Endeavor student participants make up a diverse group: 71% are students of color (25% Asian, 17% Black or African American, 17% Hispanic/Latino, 8% two or more races, 29% white); 38% are first-generation college students; and 8% are international students. Participants also represent different parts of the University with 33% from School of Business and 67% from the College of Arts and Sciences, including students majoring in music, theatre, history, sociology/anthropology, global business, and math. Participants are also at various stages of study, with 12% incoming freshmen, 12% rising sophomores, 16% rising juniors, 29% rising seniors, 16% graduate students, and 20% recent graduates.
Grewal was one of the Bulldogs selected to work with entertainment company Don’t Tell Comedy, which has given her a chance to learn about everything from logistics, financials, and marketing of a live-comedy event company. “Working with Don't Tell Comedy has been such an incredible experience, as they have made me feel part of their team since day one,” she says. “My supervisor, Kyle Kazanjian-Amory ’14, has become such a wonderful mentor and teacher that I hope to stay connected with him even after this experience.”
All of the alumni hosts have shared a willingness to help mentor the students, find projects that will interest yet challenge them, connect students to those in their own network, and coach them to develop new skillsets.
According to Grewal, this approach was just what was needed. “The Bulldog Endeavor program is so critical and insightful as it provides the hands-on experience that we need to be prepared for our careers post-graduation.”
If you are among the University’s alumni and friends and have a remote, short-term project with which you could use student support this fall, submit your project here. If you are a student interested in taking part in a hands-on experience this fall, check the OCPD Work Week newsletter on August 24 for details or contact OCPD at the beginning of the fall semester.